Thomas Hobbes argued that nature of conflict is embedded in the natural condition of mankind. On account of constant fear procured from this nature for the weaker sections of society, philosophers argued for creation of moral and legal obligations for protecting the interests of human beings. This followed the formulation of human rights in its modern sense. Though human rights are synonymous with every human civilization throughout the history, the nature of these rights were mostly in pursuance of the natural condition of conflict where it was directed in favour of one group over another. The current form of liberal world order based human rights regime was formed after the World War II and is the most influencing regime ever formed in the human history. There have been no other human rights system as widely accepted as the one we are living in. It is based on the principles of mutual respect, human dignity, equality and democratic values. In the bipolar world of the cold war era, human rights became part of an ideological struggle. The codification and monitoring of these rights benefitted from the power struggle between Soviet Union and the United States of America [US]. The human rights regime was at its peak after the fall of Berlin Wall. In the following unipolar era dominated by the US hegemony, the regime at times did suffer from backlashes but nothing was that serious to threaten the base of this regime at all. Now when the current world order itself is in retreat, the future of this human rights regime is under skepticism.
American hegemony is on a decline, particularly due to their own policies aided with the rise of regional players. The American-dominant world order is set to be replaced by a multi polar order, where numerous emerging states will have a share in the global power. These emerging states are mostly authoritarian or illiberal democracies having a poor record on human rights subject. The changing course of global power would adversely impact the current human rights regime. The change is inevitable but the degree of such change could be controlled since the international order is very deeply rooted in the current world order. It is where the role of emerging democracies and traditionalist powers become important to control the course of such change.
The changing global order
Stagnancy coupled with global order is a false concept often intermixed in the international relations. The end of every global order is inevitable and they expire in a prolonged deterioration rather than taking a sudden collapse. Ever since liberalism became the centre of the global order in the 1940s, it has been under constant threat from the actions of dominating state as well as non-state actors. This liberal order that was created in the aftermath of the Second World War produced immense benefits for the people across the planet. The years following this period brought unprecedented growths like prosperity and raise in standards of human rights. In particular, the human rights regime received a boost with the different newly formed human rights order centered on upholding the values of humanism. This order was centered on the principle of mutual respect of sovereignty and it survived the cold war and American hegemony and the challenges thereafter.
But the liberal world order is now deteriorating and the US is fast losing its superpower status that it gained post Soviet collapse. Experts argue that this breakdown of US power started with the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the present administration policies which seem disinterested in leading the global order is the end point of US hegemony. With this end, there are multiple aspects of world order that is possible and foreseeable. Some argue that the world order will remain unipolar with the classical power swift happening from one great power to another, others argue that the world order will return to pre-1992 bipolar phase while the most convincing argument being the multi polar world order where the global power could be concentrated in small pockets of numerous countries. With the rising economy and military powers, the regional powers will have a share in the concentrated global power in the upcoming order.
With the shift in the world order, the international institutions supporting the order will find it difficult to adapt to the new conditions. The older order was primarily supported by liberal democracies, now there is a constant shift of powers from these democracies to authoritarian and illiberal democratic countries. The liberal world order saw the rise of free countries by at least 36 percent which is now at a constant rate of decline. The new world order is thus set to be dominated by countries with poor human rights record. With these set of countries dominating the world order in the coming times, the liberal order based human rights regime will suffer severe repercussions.
The human rights order of the current era
Global human rights came into play only after a long period of power shifts and brutal wars rather than peaceful international relations. Post World War II, the liberal order gave prominence to the United Nations which was seen as a standing global forum which would set uniform guidelines for attaining mutual trust and orchestrate domestic as well as external policies of a state. In the third General Assembly of the United Nations held in 1948, the Universal Deceleration of Human Rights [UDHR] was adopted which could be attributed as the principle document of the current human rights regime. Article 28 of the UDHR emphasises on entitlement to a social and international order which upholds human dignity and liberty. In the following years, numerous national and international human rights organisations were set up which ultimately established an international order based on the principles of Article 28.
The human rights order has been shaped by the actions of state as well as non-state actors. Under the state actors include the nature of states, the domestic laws and the geopolitical interests the state serve to the particular cause. For the non-state actors, there are two broad heads of human rights organisations, the intergovernmental organisations [IGOs] or the international non-governmental organisations [INGOs]. The IGOs are formed by treaties amongst several states. Upon ratification of the same, the states become legally bound by the objectives set out in the treaty. The INGOs on the other hand carry out support services along with pressurizing the states for attaining rights. In the past, INGOs like Amnesty International or Red Cross have been successful in influencing political processes including areas of high politics affecting national sovereignty and the actions of other key players. The human rights order thus created has established deep roots in the current world order.
Challenges to human rights order in the multi polar world
Western countries played an extraordinarily large role as funders and conveners of human rights organisations, directly or indirectly shaping the mode of working of these organisations. Several states have argued that the organisations have been shaped in such a way to best suit the dominance of the western countries. For instance, there have been criticisms of Responsibility to Protect doctrine which have been time and again usurped by the West to wage wars in other countries. The double standard invasions to bring peace to a region have not gone well with the advocates of human rights. Countries are losing confidence in the established institutions like never before. Many countries have either left or have showed their intentions to leave the International Criminal Court over alleged political bias. Other human rights institutions are also not free from these threats. The principles of democracy as enshrined under UDHR are not feasible in a world ruled by far right or authoritarian states. If the world powers are shifted from the west to the regional players then it is certain that these organisations in their current form would suffer a backlash. While traditional powers are unwilling to reform the institutions, the emerging states are becoming more assertive in the global politics in the same place. The formation of New Development Bank by BRICS countries show that if the emerging states are not better accommodated in the existing institutions, such as World Bank or UNSC, they will undermine those institutions by creating alternative ones.
The rise of populism
The issue of human rights disorder cannot be limited to non-western countries. In recent years, the rise of populism has resulted in deteriorating human rights accord in the western countries as well. Populism is a growing ideology and an anti-establishment movement which share suspicion and hostility towards the established institutions. Studies have indicated that populist governments have eroded individual rights and inflicted serious damage on democratic institutions. In Europe for example, the increasing immigration from the Middle East and the need for preservation of cultural identity per se started the populist tide and now, the far right groups emerging from populism are expressing discontent with the established human rights laws. Several states are even passing protectionist laws aimed at curbing basic rights of refugees as enshrined in the Refugee Convention or the UDHR principles. The rise of populism has not only affected Europe but it has gone past the Atlantic to the US. The protectionist policies coupled with growing human rights abuse of the migrants shows the changing nature of administration to deal with human rights issues. Though the abuse on several counts like Guatanamo Bay have been there in the US but the current administration is very vocal in carrying out these abuses and making it sound like a norm. The multi polar world order will continue to have considerable say of these western countries and they are ought to act as saviours of the established institutions but with the rise of far right groups here they are most likely pursue the protectionist policies and evade their responsibilities to act.
Populism have gone past all possible barriers to distant countries like Philippines, Japan, Indonesia, Brazil and other emerging powers. This is leading to swift transfer of liberal democracy to illiberal ones. For instance the Philippine government has initiated its war on drugs policy where thousands of extra judicial killings have taken place. Brazil has also shown increasing numbers of extrajudicial killings. Indonesia is also witnessing the rising tides of populism where the far right opposition is witnessing strongholds in different pockets of the country. Unlike the west where populism is constrained by strongly established democratic institutions, in Asian countries these institutions are generally weak and populism could prove more dangerous to democracy. These countries are the important regional players who will have significant say in the new world order, the rising populist tide in these countries is thus worrisome for the established human rights order.
The rise of authoritarian states in the world order
The authoritarian states will have a dominant share in the rising multi polar world order. Countries like Turkey, China, North Korea, Russia etc and regional groups like African Union, Arab League and the like will have a considerable say in the world order. The human rights record of these countries range from poor to very poor. Of these countries, China is likely to have the most important share of the global power but its autocratic government sees human rights as existential threat to the state. The Chinese government has long pushed the current human rights order as an infringement of its sovereignty. Its recent episode with detaining of thousands of Muslims from Xinjiang region clearly shows the poor human rights accord it would provide for in its capacity. The current human rights order will always have some kind of infringement on the national sovereignty thus one should not expect support of the authoritarian states in this regard. Further, there are certain provisions in the UDHR which are clearly in contraventions with the foundations of these states. For instance, Article 29 calls out for establishment of democratic societies which is not a feasible alternative under an authoritarian rule.
The rise of these authoritarian states challenges the liberal order built around human rights, democracy and international justice. These states were always skeptical of human rights organisations and will abstain from progressive interpretations of human rights obligations. The attitude of these states is going to make the current human rights regime ineffective per se given the dominance of these states in the current world order. Though one could argue that the current international order has very deep roots in the society and is not easily threatened by these changes, these authoritarian states even during the current regime have successfully crumbled upon the human rights in their own domestic spaces. With the shift in world order in their favour, they could extend their domestic policies to the international sphere and change the course of human rights in the world.
The decline of human rights order
Political scientist Samuel Huntington cited democracy and the subsequent human rights from it as the inevitable consequence of the assertion of US dominance. He said
“Democracy is promoted, but not if it brings Islamic fundamentalists to power; non-proliferation is preached for Iran and Iraq, but not for Israel; free trade is the elixir of economic growth, but not for agriculture; human rights are an issue for China, but not with Saudi Arabia; aggression against oil-owning Kuwaitis is massively repulsed, but not against non-oil-owning Bosnians. Double standards in practice are the unavoidable price of universal standards of democracy.”
Though human rights have provided immense benefits for people across the globe, the proponents of these rights have used these for ulterior motives. The controller of the world order will always look for creation of institutions in the way that best suits their goals of dominance. The authoritarian dominated order would curb the liberties by counting the shortcomings of democracy. Statements like the following by the former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad could be used for supporting the restrictions on human rights
“Authoritarian stability has enabled prosperity whereas democracy has brought chaos and increased misery. Should we enforce democracy on people who may not be able to handle it and destroy themselves?”
The advocates for autocracy will undermine the human rights system for shaping up their rule and establishing long term powers in the process. The emerging authoritarian states have from time and again created deadlocks in the existing human rights system for resolving humanitarian conflicts. The deadlock created in the UNSC over Syrian Civil War by Russia and China is the most recent one. Estimated suggest that over half a million people died in this conflict but still a no-vote was given for intervention in Syria. This was partly due to the misuse of humanitarian intervention in Libya by NATO troops earlier where the said intervention failed miserably. The reasons also ranged to Russian alliance to Syrian government which it sought to protect while the western countries launched an offensive against the government at the same time. This is a perfect example of inefficiency the human right order could turn into.
The current international order has survived decades of violent wars and instability. But the stability was partly due to the fact that the US and its allies were able to maintain their hegemony. With this hegemony set to be broken, an unstable human rights order is just a matter of time. Owing to the protectionist policies, the upcoming major world powers would denounce these set of rights and will look forward to replace these with a new set of rules. The nature of these rules is easily foreseeable from the domestic policies that these countries have been serving in the past. It makes the next generation of human rights regime look bleak and cites our future to be on the verge of being in dystopia.
George Orwell in his famous novel 1984
quoted that “power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them
together again in new shape of your own choosing.” This quote is very relevant
to the current scenario of the changing world order where the emerging powers
will restrict the shape of human rights regime suitable for their own purposes.
The new Orwellian world therefore would push us back decades and nullify the
attempts that were done for creating this most effective human rights regime in
the course of history. The human rights regime is under threat, particularly
due to the actions of the parent countries of the regime and also due to the
rise of emerging countries elsewhere. The traditionalist countries are showing
little to no interest in upholding the values they created for protection of
human rights. It is where the role of emerging states becomes crucial. The
current human rights regime need to gain the active support of at least some of
the emerging states, if they are to maintain significance in the coming decades
of this century. Emerging democratic states like India and others could prove
to be crucial in mediating between the diverging interests of the traditional
powers and illiberal emerging states elsewhere. If the human rights order is to
somehow survive in the changing world order, it would depend on how these
emerging states are able to bridge the gaps that exist between traditionalist
and conservative powers.
 Fareed Zakaria, The Self-Destruction of America Power, Foreign Affairs, Volume 98 Number 4, July/August 2019 at p 10
 Democracy in Retreat, Freedom in the World 2019, Freedom House, https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/freedom-world-2019/democracy-in-retreat
 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, History of the Document, United Nations, https://www.un.org/en/sections/universal-declaration/history-document/index.html
 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, art. 28
 Seth D. Kaplan, Human Rights in Thick and Thin Societies: Universality without Uniformity, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2018)
 Yascha Mounk & Jordan Kyle, What Populists do to Democracies, The Atlantic, (Dec 26, 2018), https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2018/12/hard-data-populism-bolsonaro-trump/578878/
 Lauren Sukin, The United States treats migrants worse than Prisoner of Wars, Foreign Policy, (July 26, 2019), 10:45 AM), https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/07/26/the-united-states-treats-migrants-worse-than-prisoners-of-war/
 Brazil: Events of 2018, Human Rights Watch, https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2019/country-chapters/brazil
 Umar Juoro, The Rise of Populist Islam in Indonesia, Turkish Policy Quarterly, (Nov. 29, 2019), http://turkishpolicy.com/article/987/the-rise-of-populist-islam-in-indonesia
 Roland Hughes, China Uighurs: All you need to know on Muslim ‘crackdown’, BBC, (Nov 8, 2018), https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-45474279
 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, art 29.
 Thijs van Lindert, The International Human Rights Regime in a Multi Polar World, Humanity in Action Nederland, (Oct. 2016), https://www.humanityinaction.org/knowledge_detail/the-international-human-rights-regime-in-a-multipolar-world/
 Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, 184 (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996).
 Speech to the Europe-East Asia Economic Forum, Hong Kong, 14 Oct. 1992.
 560,000 Killed in Syria’s War according to Updated Death Toll, Haaretz, (Dec. 10, 2018, 4:26 PM), https://www.haaretz.com/middle-east-news/syria/560-000-killed-in-syria-s-war-according-to-updated-death-toll-1.6700244
What Is a Sovereign State?
Against the backdrop of the rapid collapse of the US-led world order, the question of which states will survive in the new world is becoming increasingly relevant. It is no coincidence that the President of Russia regularly addresses this problem. In one of his recent speeches at the forum of the Agency for Strategic Initiatives, Vladimir Putin defined “genuine sovereignty” as the main condition for the success of the countries of the world in the new era.
At first glance, it may seem that we are talking about the obvious — over the past 100 years, the formal sovereignty of dozens of countries has become commonplace. However, in reality, the problem is much deeper — it is not at all evident that formally-recognised statehood indicates the viability of a state as a social organisation.
That is why we now associate the survival of a state with its ability to independently determine its development and foreign policy behaviour. There are almost 200 sovereign countries in the world, including large, medium and small ones — but not all can be considered truly sovereign; fewer than half, in fact. This is not surprising — the entire international order after the Second World War was focused on somehow solving the problem of an ever-increasing number of formal sovereign jurisdictions. This is really a problem, because only a limited number of states have the resources to ensure a relatively independent existence. The rest had to rely on special connections with more powerful players from the start. Here there is no need to talk about complete sovereignty.
The last century was marked by three waves of emergence of states whose ability to survive independently in a chaotic system was unproven. The first set of these includes the countries that became the product of the collapse of European empires as a result of the First World War. At that time, practically all the countries of the Middle East and North Africa, the former possessions of the Austrian, German and Russian empires in Eastern Europe and the Balkans, arose. The only exception was Iran, which has maintained its tradition of statehood for centuries. The small new countries of Eastern Europe existed in an incomprehensible status for two decades and, after the Second World War, actually lost their sovereignty in favour of one of the superpowers — mainly the USSR.
The second wave of sovereignty is associated with the collapse of the world colonial empires, whose metropolises are located in Western Europe. The collapse of the British, Belgian, Dutch, Portuguese and French empires led to the emergence of dozens of new jurisdictions in Africa, the Caribbean and Asia, most of which immediately came under the decisive influence of their former colonial masters. Only a few powers in Asia and a few in Africa were able to achieve true independence. India, Vietnam or Egypt owe this to their demographics — a large population made it possible to create military and economic resources for independent behaviour.
And, finally, the third round of fragmentation into small formally sovereign units is associated with the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the USSR in 1991. Then 14 new countries of the so-called post-Soviet space appeared at once, and Moscow’s satellites did not restore their sovereignty, but simply came under the patronage of the winners — the United States and the large countries of Western Europe. Among the countries that emerged after the collapse of the USSR, only a few still look like they are capable of independent development. Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan have unique resources — population and natural wealth — the rest cannot boast of this, and their sovereign future is in question. In some cases (Georgia, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan) their geopolitical position contributes to the gradual strengthening of their sovereignty. These republics behave adequately to the power composition of Eurasia because they know how to look at the map. Although in the case of Georgia, the development of this skill does not take place without the help of Russia.
As a result of these waves of sovereignisation, more and more countries have emerged in the world whose power capabilities do not allow them to be considered fully autonomous units. This means that their own contribution to global stability is minimal, if anything. However, the endowment of small and medium-sized countries with formal rights within the framework of the UN system invented by the West after the Second World War required somehow the solving of the problem of managing these rights from outside.
For several decades, the consequences of the participation in world politics of many sovereign states which are incapable of independence have been mitigated through the institutions of the Liberal International Order. This gave small and medium-sized countries the opportunity to develop within a certain system of rules and norms determined by the West, led by the United States. Scores of countries throughout the world were actually deprived of sovereignty with respect to their domestic and foreign policies. In some cases, as, for example, in the system of agreements between the European Union and groups of developing countries, the renunciation of full sovereignty was fixed in the form of obligations in exchange for access to the resource development offered by Europe. All this, however, required the West to actually share a part, albeit a small one, of the development resources that the global market economy created.
The process of depriving many countries of real sovereignty gained particular intensity after 1991, when even the elementary system of checks and balances that existed during the Cold War was destroyed. It is not surprising that it was during this historical period, the discussion about the withering away of “Westphalian sovereignty” actively began in the context of the strengthening of international institutions. In fact, these institutions were controlled, directly or indirectly, by the victorious countries in the Cold War, who themselves were in no hurry to give up their sovereignty.
However, be that as it may, even if the deprivation of sovereignty by many countries did not receive formal implementation at the level of international law, they themselves were quite ready for this, in fact, glad about quite specific benefits. Moreover, many countries from among the last “wave” of sovereignisation even associated their plans for solving the main tasks of development with the loss of independence. In Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, we can find a whole group of countries for which the renunciation of sovereignty has already turned out to be practically the official “key” to a brighter future within the Liberal world order. It even went so far as to introduce such a task, in a veiled form, into the national Constitutions. In other cases, such as Kazakhstan, the transfer of some sovereign rights to partners in the West is seen as a way to protect themselves from the US and allies using local corruption and social stratification as a tool to influence the ruling regimes. There were countries which were suppliers of labour, other countries were gas stations, still other countries were granaries, other countries were military bases, and so on. The partial renunciation of sovereignty in favour of the West, in addition, is considered by individual regimes as a kind of ideal “guarantee” that the bigger neighbours — Russia or China — could more insistently indicate to their small neighbours their place in the geopolitical position.
However, this international order proved to be short-lived. First, because the largest of the countries outside the narrow community of the West — China, India and Russia — were not ready for their own desovereignisation. For them, following the proposed path would be disastrous for internal reasons and, accordingly, irrational from the point of view of the state’s survival. Therefore, such powers sooner or later had to create direct or indirect opposition to the West. Second, and more importantly, the world’s leading countries themselves have run out of resources that could be exchanged for the sovereignty of small and medium-sized countries. As a result, the US and Western Europe are increasingly forced to resort to extremely repressive measures — sanctions and special trade regimes — in order to ensure that their desires are met. The most striking example here is last year’s initiative of the European Union to make the ability of external partners to trade with its states dependent on the fulfilment of EU requirements in terms of climate change.
Finally, in the international community, a fairly significant group of states has emerged that feel so confident in their abilities that they can challenge the West’s monopoly in world affairs. This behaviour became evident in the US attempts to isolate Russia after the crisis around Ukraine turned into a military-political matter. And we are not talking only about such powers as Iran or Pakistan, whose interaction with the Liberal World Order has always been strained. In recent months, more and more middle-sized developing countries have shown that they are not going to follow the instructions of the US and its allies in politics and economic relations.
The result is the collapse of the system of limited sovereignties and, as a result, the “freezing” of many countries that are internally weak and incapable of independent development. Several dozen modern states are currently approaching a choice between gaining real sovereignty or losing it within the existing territorial limits. In fact, there is an alternative to such a gloomy choice — it is the formation of foreign policy and development policy based not on the institutional features of the outgoing world order, but on an objective assessment of one’s geopolitical position and place in the regional power composition. Moreover, it is difficult to imagine now when this or that great power will seek to deprive its neighbours of formal sovereignty — this is extremely costly in all respects. There is no doubt that not everyone is given the right choice, but only it, most likely, can become the basis for survival amid modern conditions.
From our partner RIAC
An interview with Joel Angel Bravo Anduaga: Are international organizations still relevant?
With recent developments in the international arena, and ghost conflicts from the past exacerbating contemporary global issues, it is inevitable to question what is happening with international organizations in different regions across the globe. Joel Bravo shares his insights about the importance of international organizations nowadays. Mr. Bravo is an international affairs practitioner with more than twenty years of experience managing design and implementation of strategies aimed at institutional strengthening and governance. Joel is a former electoral adviser for the United Nations to Ivory Coast (West Africa) and Timor-Leste (South-East Asia), respectively. Currently, he is a PhD candidate in Processes and Political Institutions at the University Adolfo Ibañez in Chile and a Professor at the Tecnologico de Monterrey University in Mexico. His ample experience in the field of international affairs as well as his theoretical and practical knowledge and expertise in international organizations, is crucial to help us understand the current state, challenges, and opportunities organizations faced by ongoing international conflicts.
What is the current role of international organizations?
For starters, Joel Bravo made it clear that is very important to take into account the period we talk about when explaining the role of international organizations because different periods in time have called for different roles. There must be a differentiation between what these organizations should do and what they can do. There are two levels of analysis towards them. First, the operational level which entails the everyday actions. Second, what the mass media portrays the actions of the organizations to be. There is a lot of speculation in the media about whether the United Nations (UN) works or if the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has a fair agenda, however in the operational sense they still work every day. Hence, the true answer lies within the background and the essence of each organization; circumstances and the purpose of each one are key.
From your personal experience in the peace missions of the Ivory Coast and Timor-Leste, what is your opinion about the influence of international organizations when it comes to conflict resolution?
To begin with, Mr. Bravo explained that the interests of world powers and regional powers are crucial factors. In both cases mentioned, it logically depended on the context of the countries directly involved and the external countries as well. So, it is a mix of variables that must be considered to see what the influence of an international organization in these situations truly is. Meanwhile, in Ivory Coast, at some point, the peace mission led to elections after a certain time; the peace operation from the Security Council was one of accompaniment. In contrast, the mandate that was held in the different missions in East Timor gave the United Nations more power, not only to organize the elections from a logistical and operational point of view, but also to make political decisions.
How do international organizations influence the exercise of democracy?
Joel Bravo shared that sometimes democracy can be seen simply as a concept and other times as a system or a way of living; it stretches and lengthens according to conditions and needs. Elections are a clear example of this. In the case of Ivory Coast, the efforts to hold elections started in 2005 and did not happen until 2010 because there were no appropriate internal or external conditions. On the other hand, in East Timor in 1999, when the referendum was held and then the presidential elections occurred, it was because there were conditions to do so. Additionally, it is crucial to understand what as well the underlying interest of each international organization is: to hold elections first, and then pacify the country, or pacify the country first then hold elections. Thus, the process of adaption also proves to be a strong challenge. Many factors must be taken into consideration to have a successful democracy in practice and not only in theory, understanding democracy in a broad sense and not simply from the electoral perspective.
Do you consider that international organizations are essential so that the citizens of a country can fully exercise their rights and freedoms? Why?
Initially, Mr. Bravo began explaining the difference between international organizations being essential or necessary. He claims they are not essential but rather necessary, because in many cases there have been accusations of international organizations working in favor of specific interests and being co-opted by world powers. Nonetheless, specifically for the citizens, with the idea of liberal democracy in mind, non-democratic countries would definitely need more the support of international organizations. Yet here we come to a paradox, because if a country is not democratic, thinking for example of North Korea, it is not going to allow an organization to carry out supervision, both in internal and external matters. Then, yes, the presence would probably become essential, but it is not decisive. On the other hand, these matters should be dealt with carefully because, sometimes, the media places excessive responsibility on international organizations. It is true that they help countries, and provide validation, but, at the end of the day, they are still constrained by the context and environment of each case.
Are international organizations accountable?
All organizations, or at least the most important and most robust have internal instruments, instances of accountability, of transparency; to a certain extent they self-monitor. Nevertheless, for example, security organizations such as NATO, due to their nature it is difficult for there to be proper transparency because it would be a matter of national security for the members and the region. It depends on the organization, there are some that can be more controlled. There are some that are highly questioned, for instance, the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank, both which possess control mechanisms, but the question is who determines those mechanisms. Before the West was the main axis for how accountability is and is delivered; it was not questioned because there was no counterpart. China and Russia are now acting as a counterpart and there is a questioning of that order.
What impossibilities can international organizations have that do not allow them to operate as they are expected to do so in theory?
First of all, the nature of each organization is key. Nation-States are the first and focal factor. Anyhow, any international organization also considers at least two other variables, two other types of actors: economic interests represented by the companies that do lobbying and organized civil society; both of which influence decision-making and public opinion, more so in this age of social networks and cyberspace. The word international is now set too short, it would be better to called them world organizations, global organizations or regional organizations but speaking in terms of international continues to think of the Nation-State as the center, constraining its potential.
With new international conflicts developing, how does the role of international organizations change? Are they still relevant?
From a traditional point of view, the Russian-Ukrainian conflict logically has relevance, and it has been proven that international organizations sometimes fall short. Thinking, for example, of the United Nations, NATO and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which to a certain extent could not have prevented the conflict but do have a leading role. On the contrary, if these new conflicts are unknow territory, for example, what happens in the cyberspace, then international organizations are falling behind. Current conditions are shaping up to a hyper-specialization of international organizations. They are becoming increasingly technical, focusing on what needs fixing and working to agree on very specific issues. For these reasons, international organizations are in a process of adaptation. It would seem like it is still slow due to bureaucratic processes, but their relevance is still present.
What is the future of international organizations?
Mr. Bravo answered that there will be a greater presence of regionalization in international organizations that goes hand in hand with specialization. This occurs for example with NATO: in its name it continues to apparently be regional, but it is expanding. Also, the creation of new organizations is happening, like AUKUS, which on the one hand seems to be new, but it is a continuation of political dialogue mechanisms that were already established and that are now becoming more structured. Whilst the power structure is not perceived clearer, a global restructuring of international organizations cannot be mentioned. However, what can be mentioned is a sense of greater conformation, reactivation, and strengthening of the schemes. There is a cohabitation to a certain extent of the old, traditional organizations that come from the second post-war period that have been adapting, with the new problems and the new-old problems that evolved. Especially technology, social networks and the internet have a lot to do with these transformations.
The Noble Nobel
One of the most coveted awards in human history, the Nobel Prize was created by the last will and testament of Alfred Nobel, inventor of the “dynamite”. These are essentially personal awards from his private estate but has since evolved into something much larger. All the Nobel Prizes are awarded in Sweden except for the Peace Prize given in Norway. Alfred Nobel flourished during the Industrial Revolution, when the United Kingdoms of Sweden and Norway were still together, amassing his fortune making military weapons. Some argue that these prizes were posthumously conceived to improve his reputation.
Nobel Prizes are awarded in the fields of Chemistry, Physics, Medicine, Literature, and the most coveted, the Peace Prize. In his will, Alfred Nobel characterized the Peace Prize to be given “to the person who has done the most or best to advance fellowship among nations, the abolition or reduction of standing armies, and the establishment and promotion of peace congresses”.
More than a century later, has the Nobel Peace Prize lost its luster?
The Norwegian Nobel Committee, a five-member committee appointed by the Parliament of Norway chooses the recipient. Interestingly, despite being appointed by Parliament, the committee is a private body tasked with awarding a private prize. Unless the Committee becomes inclusive, it will lose its moral authority in an increasingly divided world.
Russian journalist, Dmitry Andreyevich Muratov, drew international headlines after auctioning off the Nobel Peace Prize he had won last year for a record $103.5 million to aid Ukrainian refugees.
In doing so, he showed a level of responsibility and moral leadership that has unfortunately been lacking in the institution of the Nobel Prize itself. This auction presents a moment to reflect on the future of the prestigious award.
Since its inception, nearly every winner of the Nobel Prize for Science has been a “white” man – as almost no scientist that were female or of any other ethnicity were deemed worthy enough to win this illustrious award. Not only this, but only four of the 200 winners in the history of the Nobel Prize for Physics have been women. The committee’s nomination and selection processes are reflected by the institution’s lack of diversity, tainting the reputation of a prize intended to celebrate humanity. This matters especially today because moral leadership is needed more than ever.
In these testing times, when the global powers are wrestling against the climate crisis, terrorism, population growth, food insecurity, refugee crisis, religious violence, Islamophobia, racism, and conflicts like the Russia-Ukraine war and its repercussions on world peace, the Nobel committee must demonstrate moral leadership. And it can only do so by redressing its centuries’ old gender and racial disparities against nominees.
The Nobel Prize committee has been on shaky ground in recent times. In matters of war and peace, the stakes are higher. In retrospect, the last two times it selected a head of state were a disaster. In 2009, the committee selected then-President Barrack Obama at the beginning of his presidency. The award was given in the hope that President Obama might change the direction of his country after he had campaigned for the office in part of his opposition to previous heavy-handed military interventions in the Middle East – notably in Iraq. This anti-war sentiment was what the Nobel committee likely honed in on when selecting him for the award.
Yet, President Obama authorized a military surge in Afghanistan and the invasion of Libya. The botched Libya invasion did remove Muammar Gaddafi, but it also helped destabilize the Sahel region, instigating a state of instability and chaos that is still with us today.
The Nobel Committee was on firmer ground when it chose Muratov along with Filipino journalist Maria Ressa “for their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace.”
Ressa is considered a brave journalist, but many in the Philippines will say otherwise and even wonder if the award was given erroneously.
Furthermore, in the case of Muratov, it is worth asking if the undisclosed bidder for his Nobel Peace Prize – was, in fact, the Norwegian government. What we know for sure is that Norway recently handed 4 million Euros worth of seized Russian media assets to Muratov.
Cordell Hull, who secured the Nobel Peace Prize in 1945 for his role in establishing the United Nations, was the same person who turned away Jewish refugees fleeing the Holocaust by redirecting their ships to the infamous concentration camps. On 5 June 1939, he returned a ship carrying 937 passengers. Over a quarter of them ended up dying in the Holocaust.
There have been some glaring omissions as well. At least one is worth noting. Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi, one of the most significant persons of our time. Even today he is a byword for peace activism. Yet even he failed to win the Nobel Peace Prize, despite being shortlisted five times. In 2006. the former director of the Nobel Institute, Geir Lundestad, said the most significant omission in the prize’s history was never awarding the peace prize to the Indian political activist Mahatma Gandhi. However, the committee’s Euro-centric inclinations kept him from receiving the prize.
The sad reality appears to be that the Nobel Peace Prize committee blurs the lines between being an independent institution guided by clear moral principles and one that is a realpolitik instrument of Norwegian foreign policy. It was only in 2017 that the committee prevented current members of the Norwegian parliament from serving on the committee. However, the membership of the committee is currently selected by Norway’s Parliament and perhaps not surprisingly includes four politicians. Two of whom are former government ministers.
With Russia invading Ukraine, China making its own bold land grab in the South China Sea, disinformation on the rise, and many democracies in OECD countries facing a populist if not putschist threat, clear moral leadership on the international stage is needed more than ever.
The Nobel Prize Committee, in this context should take several reforms designed to make the organization more representative.
Firstly, the organization should clearly establish itself as a civil society organization – not an arm of Norwegian foreign policy. The presence of former or current politicians on the committee should be limited if not removed entirely. More civil society leaders like human rights experts would go a long way here.
Second, the committee lacks diversity considering it is composed of entirely of people from white, Christian backgrounds and, of course, Norwegian. Why aren’t representatives of Norway’s immigrant communities or even the ethnic Sami people a key feature of its famed instrument of soft power?
Thirdly, the committee should not be afraid to revoke the Nobel Prizes given to individuals who later betray its principles.
Again, these are extraordinary times, and the Nobel Committee is an important institution whose peace prize is closely followed globally. With Western institutions under pressure, the Nobel Peace Prize is an entity worth saving. The choice is Norway’s.
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